The Sky is the Limit

The Government is consulting on a wide range of initiatives to support the dying high street and increase the delivery of new homes. One of the initiatives being considered is allowing owners to extend upwards by using the airspace above existing buildings. This would be enabled by a new permitted development right ("PDR"), subject to prior approval by the local planning authority, for certain buildings including those in commercial or residential use in high streets and town centres.

The Government would like views on how this PDR could be used in practice taking into account local design codes. Some parameters have been set by the Government as follows:

  1. A maximum limit of five storeys from ground level for a building once extended is imposed, with anything higher requiring a planning application; and
  2. An additional storey should not exceed 3 metres in height.

The Government is asking whether the new PDR should allow the local authority to consider the physical works required to construct or install the additional storeys. This seems sensible given that the required works could include steps to strengthen existing walls, engineering works to strengthen existing foundations to support the additional storeys and works to provide safe and appropriate access. Providing details on the physical works required to enable the upward extension will of course add a level of complexity which could cause delays to a process which is intended to expedite the delivery of new homes.

It is also proposed that the new prior approval process would consider the likely impact of such an extension. Potential impacts include flooding and contamination risks, transport and highways, the impact of new homes on existing occupiers and businesses as well as the design, siting and appearance of the upward extension. The Government would like views on whether these matters (and others) should be dealt with at the prior approval stage and/or whether other matters should be addressed. Again, it seems sensible and reasonable for such matters to be considered at the prior approval stage but this could also cause delays.

However, in our view any delay in the prior approval process is likely to be outweighed by the time and money saved in submitting a planning application for these works. Furthermore, the principle of the development will have already been established by the new PDR. Critics have highlighted the risk of "unplanned planning" through the use of PDR. In this case there appear to be enough limitations and restrictions in the PDR process to address this concern.

On balance, this is a well intentioned initiative which could speed up the process of supplying much needed homes. The consultation closes on 14 January 2019. If you do have any views this link will take you to the consultation:

If you have any queries on airspace development generally please contact Jade Chalmers and Anita Kasseean